The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles™
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Top Squirrel Hunting Tips and Techniques
Florida’s small game season extends from November 13th through March 6th, offering both new and experienced hunters ample opportunity to keep their skills honed for the bigger game they pursue. Squirrel hunting, traditionally a family pastime, is no longer the most popular off season hunting activity that it used to be. The exponential growth and distribution of turkey, and the burgeoning population of deer, has taken the luster off of small game hunting in general, and squirrel hunting specifically. That’s a real shame too, because with such liberal seasons and bag limits of up to 12 per day, Mr Bushytail offers excitement and skill building that we all need.
Finding squirrels is as easy (LOL!) as finding acorns! But what about those times when the acorns are scarce or the trees non-producing? You would do well to look for any fruiting tree. Mulberry, persimmons, paw paws, and peach trees when ripe; even green hickory nuts are a prime draw for foraging squirrels. Evergreen cones are frequently full of seeds year round. Remember, that they don’t just eat nuts! They frequently forage on the ground, looking for root plants and tubers, along with seeds heads, green plants, and mushrooms.
Black, or melanistic squirrel. Common in some populations.
Of course, food availability will dictate what squirrel populations will be like in any given area. In good mast years, squirrel litters will be large and well fed, and many more of them will survive. Bad years cause the opposite, weakening the population and limiting numbers. This is of course common with all rodent populations; boom and bust cycles affect the population on a regular basis. Remember, gray squirrels build a nest, (known as a drey), in the forks of trees. The drey is made up of dry leaves and twigs and here in Florida, Spanish moss is commonly used to build a comfy domicile! In the winter, look for them up in trees; where there are lots of them, you will find lots of squirrels!
Squirrels, like all rodents, are very prolific, and a good year of seed and mast production insures an even better season to come. In a good year, it does not take long for several female squirrels to multiply prodigiously and repopulate an area as they breed twice a year, giving birth to a litter of up to 8 pups. Hunting barely affects the furry nutcrackers, and even under exceptional pressure recruitment from neighboring areas quickly repopulates the bushytails.
As common as they are in many areas, it makes sense to keep them in mind when initiating someone into hunting. Young people will appreciate the quicker tempo of small game hunting and be better prepared for the needed patience of a deer or turkey hunt. Adults will be challenged and again, as an introduction, squirrel hunting provides the potential for just enough action, without being overwhelming. Everyone will learn the importance of picking their shots and shooting accurately; lessons that will be of utmost importance when bigger game is sought. Keep in mind that early in the season they are most active early in the day, and again later in the afternoon. Once the days start to shorten, they spend much more time foraging and burying nuts for the winter. Once the cold sets in, they'll be on the forest floor digging up their cached bounty.
Firearms for Squirrels. Rimfire, Black powder, and Shotgun.
Your old trusty twenty-two, or that new rimfire 17HMR may be your ticket to a limit of squirrel. An accurate bolt action or repeater will put the lead where it needs to be, and help you to ethically collect your game. A good scope helps immensely, especially when trying to pick out the top of their heads while they plaster themselves to a branch. Remember that most all 22s are finicky about which brand of ammo they will shoot accurately, so make sure you’ve bench tested your rifle and know which brand will give you that good accuracy you want.
Shotgunning for squirrels is also a popular way to bring them down. #6 shot in a low base shell is more than adequate out of a 12 or 16, as well as in a 20. Lots of folks chase them with 410s, and I bet the occasional 28 does too.
Blackpowder hunters have their own rifles for bushytails, “Squirrel Rifles!” Usually in 32 caliber, they are fairly quiet, conservative in their powder use, and 44 inches of Pennsylvania barrel makes for a very accurate roundball. Even up to 45 caliber, some aficionados use reduced loads to collect Mr Nutcracker. Head shots are the ticket here.
Hunting Tactics for squirrel.:
Still hunting: When still hunting, a hunter finds a place that he knows harbors an abundance of squirrels. After locating a promising area, you sit and wait for a squirrel to come and announce himself, hopefully in front of you! After that, all it takes is careful aim! Immediately recover your game, and sit down again. In a short while the woods will come back to life, and you will be presented with another opportunity.
Stalking: Walking quietly through the woods in search of squirrels can be another very effective way to hunt Mr Bushytail. Not only is it effective, but it is great training for big game too. Walking alone or with a partner, slowly make your way through the woods untill you perceive the busy squirrel. Stalking to within range takes great care and practice. But even if spotted, you can rest assured that after a short time, the Nutcracker will reappear to investigate. If hunting with another person, always keep gun handleing safety in mind.
Dog Hunting: In many areas, squirrel hunters hunt with the help of a hunting dog. Squirrel dogs can be pure bred hunting dogs, to rascally mutts, like my very own Charlie, who can sniff out the scent of the squirrel and track the squirrel. A good squirrel dog will tree the squirrel and lead the hunter to the spot, thus providing the hunter with the opportunity to take his shot.
Preparing Squirrels: There are many guides to skinning and cleaning squirrels on the internet, so I would urge you to take a look. The one important thing I learned, was to wet the fur real good before you start. It helps keep stray hairs from getting on the meat! (How to Clean a Squirrel)
Squirrel Hides and Tails: Hides can be tanned at home for any number of projects. The tails especially are of some value to fly tiers. Again research the internet for more explicit instructions.
Here is a tasty looking recipe that I wish I had known about twenty years ago when I was reduced to hunting squirrel for sustenance. Squirrels and a handful of Chinese radishes kept me from starving to death until that first check came in!
Ozark Squirrel with Mushrooms
1 squirrel, cleaned, dressed and disjointed
1/3 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
6 strips bacon, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. thyme
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 c. chicken broth
1 c. mushrooms, sauteed in butter
Dredge squirrel in seasoned flour. Cook diced bacon over moderate heat and remove browned bits. Saute squirrel in bacon fat until browned on both sides. Add garlic, thyme, tomato and chicken broth. Cover and simmer about 1 hour or until tender. Serve with sauteed mushrooms, grits and green salad.
I hope the motivates you to go out and do a little squirrel hunting! Take a non-hunter or aspiring hunter with you, and show them the ropes from start to finish! Remember, every hunter you recruit, even if its for only one hunt, is a person that now understands the role of the hunter.
Albert A Rasch
Member: Shindand Tent Club
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...
Though he spends most of his time writing and keeping the world safe for democracy, Albert was actually a student of biology. Really. But after a stint as a lab tech performing repetitious and mind-numbing processes that a trained capuchin monkey could do better, he never returned to the field. Rather he became a bartender. As he once said, "Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger." He has followed the science of QDM for many years, and fancies himself an aficionado. If you have any questions, or just want to get more information, reach him via TheRaschOutdoorChronicles(at)MSN(dot)com.
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